We all know that smoking is bad for you, and smoking in pregnant women can be especially dangerous as it affects the health of their children. However, a recent study explains a new risk; maternal smoking can lead to severe mental illness in children.
A study now published online in JAMA Psychiatry has found that children of mothers who smoke during pregnancy raise the risk of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other serious mental health conditions in their offspring. Results revealed children exposed to moderate and high levels of smoking during pregnancy had greater severe mental illness rates than children who weren’t exposed. These results remained even when sibling comparison ruled out the possibility of genetic and environmental influences.
The study didn’t prove that smoking caused severe mental illness in offspring, the researchers said in a recent press release. “Rather, these results suggest that much of the observed population-level association can be explained by measured and unmeasured factors shared by siblings,” the article concludes.
For the study, the team of researchers, led by by Patrick D. Quinn, Ph.D., of Indiana University, Bloomington, analyzed data for nearly 1.7 million people born in Sweden to understand the differences between children born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy and those born to mothers who did not not smoke. While results suggested that maternal smoking during pregnancy did significantly raise the risk of mental health conditions in offspring later on in life, the team admitted that it may be too early to conclude that one action without a doubt led to the other.
This is not the first time that schizophrenia has been linked to maternal smoking during pregnancy. In 2016, reseachers from Colombia University Medical Center found that smoking during pregnancy causes changes to the fetus’ DNA that lead to mental health issues later in life such as increased risk of schizophrenia.
“To our knowledge, this is the first biomarker-based study to show a relationship between fetal nicotine exposure and schizophrenia,” said Dr. Alan Brown, senior author and Mailman School professor of epidemiology and professor of clinical psychiatry at CUMC, in a press release. “We employed a nationwide sample with the highest number of schizophrenia cases to date in a study of this type.”